Four Hundred Souls

by Ibram X. Kendi, Keisha N. Blain

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Why is the book titled Four Hundred Souls?

Quick answer:

The title of this book refers to the 400 years that have passed since the first enslaved people were brought to America and how people have been affected by that history.

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Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619–2019 tells the history of slavery, its legacy, and racism in the United States. The title of this book refers to the four hundred years that have passed since the first enslaved Africans were forcibly brought to America.

Unlike many other histories on this topic, this collection of essays focuses more on the personal experiences of those affected by slavery and its legacy. This is not a history that takes a five thousand-foot view of events. It gets right down to the personal level, making the reader acutely aware of how the events of history have affected people as individuals. By examining race in America, this collection attempts to humanize people who were systematically dehumanized.

This gets to the heart of the book's title. The souls that it refers to represent real people who led real lives. Although it does tell the stories of large historical figures, such as Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and Nat Turner, many of the essays in this book look at those who have been largely passed by in the historical record. This includes the maroons who settled on land just beyond the full reach of colonization and the Black feminists of the twentieth century. In doing so, the writings in this collection remind the reader that American history affected and continues to affect actual people of all types.

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